Long time coming

June 08, 2005

TALK OF building a town center of some sort near the Owings Mills Metro station goes back as far the mid-1980s. Planning gained state interest in the late 1990s, a public proposal emerged in 2000, and construction was to begin in 2001.

That never happened, of course. The project became bogged down by a lawsuit over the terms of the original sale of the land to the state and by a change in developers.

But now there's a new developer and a settlement to that lawsuit. And the Baltimore County Council on Monday voted to move forward with a $220 million project to turn the Metro stop's 46-acre parking lot into a mixed-use "main street" of offices, stores, apartments, garages, a hotel and a library and community college branch.

Groundbreaking for the garages could take place as soon as this year, says David S. Iannucci, the county's economic development chief. All efforts by the state and county now should be aimed at ensuring that this town center, which may take more than 10 years to build out, does not encounter any more delays.

This is a very welcome project. It is smart use of a large tract of undeveloped land, increasingly a scarce resource in the Baltimore region. If well developed, it should give a new urban-like focus to the community of Owings Mills. And it should increase Metro ridership, better leveraging significant state investments in mass transit that have not been fully used.

Owings Mills Town Center is only the latest big example of the transit-oriented developments taking hold in the Baltimore area - along with the city's west-side renewal and the remake of Odenton in Anne Arundel County.

Even as Owings Mills finally takes off, Baltimore County and state officials already are eyeing their next such project, near the MARC station in Middle River. Many other opportunities are available along this region's existing transit lines: State transportation officials say they're negotiating with developers about the Rogers Avenue Metro station and the Frederick and Laurel MARC stations, marketing the Reisterstown and State Center Metro stops, and planning with Howard County to market the Dorsey and Savage MARC stations.

Transit and higher density go hand in hand. State and local officials are wise to be aggressively seeking to build on that logic.

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